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Lincoln Victory Speech Nets $3.5 Million

by Rick Badwey (02/20/09).

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Although we are in a recession, the combination of passion, with money, of course, drives the market. In the autograph industry, we’ve seen a stabilization and solid interest in popular figures, as dictated by the phrase: Quality Sells!

And, as one recent piece proves, when these factors—uniqueness, popularity and timing—come together; it can result in enthusiastic bidding even, in an economic downturn.

One of the most popular figures in history, Abraham Lincoln, is a case in point. On the eve of his 200th birthday last week, the handwritten manuscript of Lincoln’s second presidential election victory speech, given on Nov. 10, 1864 and which had never been offered for sale before, sold at Christie’s for a record $3,442,500. Christies held this historically significant auction at their gallery in New York. The document was purchased by an anonymous bidder on the phone.

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Lincoln wrote the manuscript on four large, blue-lined sheets of paper (one side only). It was considered one of his most important speeches, considering recent election events. Lincoln garnered 55 percent of the popular vote to win re-election, which is amazing, considering the election took place in during a deeply dividing and bloody war. It was a very unpopular war and Lincoln anticipated defeat. The war was so stressful for Lincoln that historians have compared Lincoln’s facial appearance in photos taken early in his presidency to those four years later and commented the toll it took on his appearance over those four years.

As Christies’ remarks in its description, a tremendously enthusiastic crowd of 1,500, mostly members of the local Lincoln and Johnson clubs, carrying lanterns and torches, assembled on the White House lawn to the strains of patriotic music, and accompanying fireworks lit the night. Lincoln, standing in the north portico, listened to the excitement of the crowd, preparing to read his speech. Behind him, his secretary held a candle to illuminate the pages.

The speech contained many significant statements, including: “a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war…” Also, “The election was a necessity,” for “we cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”

In a poignant call for reconciliation for the country’s sake, Lincoln stressed: “may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country?” The conclusion of the speech calls for “three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skilful commanders.”

Chris Coover, of Christies’ Books and Manuscripts, expressed his feelings about the results of the auction: “We are extremely gratified by the attention this historic presidential speech generated, leading up to and coinciding with Lincoln’s Bicentennial birthday. It is a testimony to the abiding respect and reverence for this towering American president and his compelling eloquence,” he said.

As one who is involved deeply in this field, imagine what went through Lincoln’s mind when he gave this speech. Imagine, more so, what is going through the new buyer’s mind when he holds this speech in his hands!

Rick Badwey is a Worthologist who specializes in autographs and historic documents.

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